Empirical curiosity . . . in verse

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Centrally Heated Knickers

; illustrations by Harry Horse Puffin: 2000. £4.99

Points of View with Professor Peekaboo

; illustrations by Satoshi Kitamura Bodley Head: 2000. £9.99

All Sorts

; drawings by Sara Fanelli Ondt & Gracehoper: 1999. £7.50

Poems for children with a scientific angle are rare. There are some by Ted Hughes that have science in the background, there are poets, suchas Robert Frost and Miroslav Holub, whosescientific poems would refresh children's anthologies. But the norm in children's poetry is to appeal to fantasy and wordplay rather than to exercise an empirical curiosity about the world. So two of these books, dedicatedto both poetry and science, and area new and welcome idea.

They are also, unfortunately a disappointment. Centrally Heated Knickers , contains 100 poems on the environment, design, technology, chemistry and physics, with 25 poems in each category. Not surprisingly, given this rigid format, the great majority are not poems at all. So the value of the book is in its exceptions, suchas 'Growing Apples', which refashions the old moral of the wise servant: she counsels the king to bury an apple in order to acquire thousands more. There is verbal fun in 'Footsteps' and in 'How Humans Outdied', and some amusement in a handful of other pieces — but not enough to dispel the overall impression of an unlikely commission being fulfilled.

Points of View with Professor Peekaboo looks more promising. The eponymous professor is depicted on the cover sitting wide-eyed and pensive on top of the Earth. The drawings within are inventive and striking. The accompanying text, however, is less imaginative. Rhythm is all-important for children, and but too often John Agard's lines are haphazard and the rhymes monotonous.

Let's hope that the limitations of these books do not discourage the idea of linking poetry and science. Examples of how the two work together can be found in Christopher Reid's. All Sorts. Reid is a resourceful poet who brings to his children's verse the same standards that characterize his adult work and the poems show, in a more genial vein, the same playfulness with ideas and with language. This is as it should be.

The poems here are on mixed subjects, butsome — including the best — use scientific ideas. 'A Pair of Planets', for example, creates twin alternative worlds in two 10-line verses each built on a single rhyme. The first, which is characterized by energy, rhymes hop, pop, bop, and so on; the other, where lethargy prevails, rhymes asleep, deep, heap.Another gem is 'Mud', achild's hilarious proposal to investigate the nature of mud. It's a sort of precocious grant application for “a programme of study” which, alas and cannotbe undertaken “without first getting really muddy”.

These poems will delight children and adults alike. And they also suggest something else: that the vein of speculative imagining, so much a part of traditional children's poetry, can be enriched by the use of science.

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